Football: Fickle Liverpool look for consistency

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The Independent Online
Liverpool go into tonight's Uefa Cup first round, second leg against Celtic as firm favourites. Guy Hodgson says, however, that it is not easy to predict how Roy Evans' team will perform at the moment.

There are television archives bulging with evidence of Liverpool's negligence when it comes to finishing off teams, but if a football historian wanted to use one game to illustrate the pluses and minuses of the current team then footage of the first leg of their Uefa Cup tie with Celtic would do as well as any.

Composed and dangerous on the counter-attack, Liverpool subdued the Glasgow side for 45 minutes, assuming such a command that tonight's second leg looked likely to be a formality. Give them a half chance to get distracted and they will do so, however, and but for Steve McManaman's late signature goal they would have been facing a 2-1 deficit at Anfield.

At the moment trying to predict how fickle Liverpool will be is not simple. Good one match, bad the next they have already lost half the points they could have gained in the Premiership and, while they remain among the favourites to take the title, another near-miss season like the last would hardly be a bolt from Everton blue.

"Our biggest problem at the moment is that we have got to be consistent throughout a game," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said yesterday. "We let Celtic get back into the game after going ahead at Parkhead and if you give them space they will finish you. We have to be a lot tighter.''

Evans dilemma will be whether to find that tightness with a back four or his more familiar three centre-backs. Rob Jones and Steve Harkness are likely to be fit after knee and groin injuries respectively, which will allow him to revert to his preferred wing-back system which will be a relief at least for Bjorn Tore Kvarme who looked uncomfortable with a conventional right-back role against West Ham on Saturday.

"We won't be going for a draw," Evans said. "We've been caught like that before. The tie's wide open. It's certainly not a formality. We have got to try and win, I don't see any point in sitting back hoping for a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw.''

The onus is also on Celtic to attack of course and their cause has not been helped by Tom Boyd's suspension, Marc Rieper's ineligibility and injuries to Regi Blinker (shoulder), Stephane Mahe, Andreas Thom (both calf) and Morten Wieghorst (knee). Nevertheless, Liverpool's profligacy gives any team reason for hope.

The outcome is unpredictable. Put McManaman and Robbie Fowler in the Celtic team and you would have more confidence in the Glasgow side. But if you can contain McManaman with a man marker, which he has found difficult to deal with in the past, Liverpool can grind to a frustrating halt.

"We know it will be a hard game, but then you never know what is going to happen in Europe," Wim Jansen, the Celtic coach, said. "We will not be playing in a defensive way at Anfield because we have the players to cause them problems at the back.''

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